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Priscilla Settee: No surprise Idle No More comes on heels of Occupy Movement

The following article includes quotes from Priscilla Settee, a professor in the Department of Native Studies:

Thousands take over mall

By Charles Hamilton, The StarPhoenix December 21, 2012

There were periodic eruptions of cheers and yelps as a massive group of protesters shutdown parts of the Midtown Plaza. People held hands as they danced in an enormous circle to the beat of drums and a chorus of traditional First Nations' singing. There were no political speeches or organized chants, but the estimated 2,000 people who attended this flash mob on Thursday are all part of a national movement that is sweeping the country.

"People are waking up," said Jenn Altenberg, who came downtown for Thursday's Idle No More protest. "People showing up here is a powerful statement. Our young people are finding their voices."

The Idle No More movement rolling across the country was started by four women from Saskatchewan. The rallies and other events are focused on indigenous rights and environmental laws, specifically the proposed changes in the federal government's omnibus budget legislation Bill C-45. Supporters say the changes weaken environmental laws and circumvent treaty rights and were proposed without adequate consultation with First Nations. What started as a protest against a specific piece of legislation has spread like wild fire around the globe thanks in large part to social media.

Rallies and protests have been held in Montreal, L.A. and San Francisco. On Friday, hundreds are expected to attend a large protest in downtown Saskatoon, while Idle No More in Ottawa is planning a rally on Parliament Hill to demand the government reverse legislation that it says will affect treaties.

But some people at Thursday's protest say it's about more than First Nations and aboriginal issues.

"It's not just First Nations or aboriginal people. I think it's a culmination of a lot of things," said John Noon, one of the drummers who led the flash mob. "It's like Occupy. It's building on that. It's going worldwide."

Noon is not the only one to compare the Idle No More to Occupy - the international protest movement against social and economic inequality that began with protesters camping out in New York City's Zuccotti Park.

Priscilla Settee, a native studies professor at the University of Saskatchewan, says the popularity of Idle No More stems from the same sorts of frustrations and it's no surprise it comes on the heels of Occupy. Like with Occupy, the frustrations of Idle No More go beyond one specific topic. "If we look at the quality of life for First Nations, urban or rural, it's terrible. The average income for First Nations and Aboriginal Peoples is deplorable," Settee said. "In a country like Canada it should be a national embarrassment."

Bill C-45 received final Senate approval last week and will likely become law sooner rather than later, but there are those who hope the movement could halt what they call the dismantling provisions of the Indian Act pertaining to land sovereignty and other treaty rights.

The Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations is supporting the Idle No More movement and its leaders echoed the concerns about federal legislation, specifically bills C-38 and C-45, said Chief Perry Bellegarde, speaking by telephone from Ottawa, where he is scheduled to speak at an Idle No More rally at Parliament Hill.

Bellegarde pointed to proposed legislation that he says will loosen land and water environmental regulations as particularily troublesome for First Nations communities.

"There are so many pieces of legislation put into the omnibus bills that affect inherent rights, treaty rights, which are fundamental rights, that it's not only a concern for First Nations people but for all Canadians," Bellegarde said. "It undermines the integrity of Parliament. It's unjust."

The Idle No More movement is the result of years of inaction from the federal government around improving the lives of First Nations people across Canada, Bellegarde said.

"People are rising up because of the lack of recognition and implementation of treaty rights," he said. "They're tired of poverty plaguing our communities. There is a high cost to poverty."

The movement's trending Twitter hashtag #IdleNoMore and massive presence on social media is helping it gain national and international attention. On Thursday, the U.K.'s Guardian newspaper published a column online praising the wave of protests. But what is helping Idle No More more than anything, supporters say, is a new generation of First Nations and aboriginal people.

"I want to be part of reminding Canadians that we are still here. That Saskatoon is in treaty territory and we are all treaty people," said Jarita Greyeyes at Thursday night's flash mob.

"Despite many attempts to erase us, to separate us from our culture, or languages our traditions that we have overcome those things and we are still here."
© Copyright (c) The StarPhoenix

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